Managing a workplace during COVID-19 presents a completely different environment than you’re used to. Not only do you have to manage your workforce, but you have to manage the spread of COVID-19 in your workplace for both the employees and customers. 

At Eco Bear, we understand the difficulties these present. We’ve prepared this guide to help you understand how COVID-19 spreads, what precautions you can take, and to understand the importance of effectively disinfecting your workplace if any exposure or threat occurs within the workplace.

Understanding COVID-19

It’s important to have the facts about COVID-19 so that you thoroughly understand how it spreads and what precautions you must take. We know there is a lot of information out there and some of it even conflicts. We provide you with the facts straight from the government including the CDC.

  • COVID-19 is highly contagious from both person-to-person and from surface to person. Disinfection is absolutely imperative to prevent spreading the illness around your workplace. Think of commonly touched objects like doorknobs, light switches, countertops, pens, and phones. If an infected person coughs or sneezes on his/her hand and then touches an object, the virus germs sit on that object and can infect the next person or people that touch it.
  • Not everyone shows symptoms of COVID-19, but they carry the virus. Many people do have symptoms, which we’ll discuss below, but it’s important to understand that even people without symptoms can carry and spread the germs, which is why social distancing and proper face coverings are essential.
  • COVID-19 symptoms may take between 2 and 14 days to show up after exposure. In fact, those that do show symptoms (have the illness) were contagious 48 hours before they started showing symptoms. Anyone that thinks they may have been exposed should isolate themselves for 14 days.
  • COVID-19 affects all races, genders, and ages, but some are more vulnerable than others. They include those over age 65, anyone with a compromised immune system, people with chronic illnesses, and pregnant women.
  • The only way to prevent the spread is to practice proper social distancing, frequent hand washing and/or sanitizing, and proper disinfection of all surfaces frequently. 
  • The symptoms of COVID-19 include a fever of 100.4 or higher, cough, difficulty breathing, sore muscles, loss of taste or smell, shaking and chills, and headaches. Some people only have a few of the symptoms and still test positive. 

Precautions in the Workplace

In order to continue operating your business while preventing the spread of COVID-19, have the following precautions in place:

  • Hang signage throughout the workplace enforcing proper and frequent handwashing, which means washing hands for at least 20 seconds with disinfectant soap and water or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Handwashing should take place before eating, after coughing/sneezing, going to the bathroom, touching common objects, or coming into contact with an infected person.
  • Make handwashing or hand sanitizing stations readily accessible throughout the workplace. 
  • Remove all common objects that aren’t absolutely necessary. Objects that must be used to conduct business should have hand sanitizer next to them for sanitizing immediately after touching the object.
  • Remove all chairs that aren’t necessary. Those that are necessary should allow for proper social distancing, which means at least 6 feet apart. 
  • Make sure all employees’ workspaces are situated at least 6 feet apart and that there isn’t a direct path from each person’s face to a co-worker’s face (try staggering cubicles, desks, and workspaces).

Managing Employees During COVID-19

Managing your employees during COVID-19 requires you to set strict guidelines in place to prevent the spread of the illness throughout your workplace. Consider:

  • Allowing all sick employees to stay home. Inform your employees about the importance of self-monitoring for symptoms. If they present any symptoms, require that they stay home. Don’t require a doctor’s note; be proactive in stopping the spread of the illness in your workplace. If the symptoms are mild enough, you can consider allowing the employee to work virtually, but always make his/her health the priority.
  • Send any sick employees home. Symptoms can come up at any time throughout the day. Encourage employees to self-monitor their symptoms throughout the day using the above list of symptoms. If you can take temperatures throughout the day, consider taking them at the start of the day and then again one more time. Anyone that presents a temperature of 100.4 or higher should be sent home. 
  • If any employee had contact with an infected employee or an employee showing symptoms, they should be sent home to self-isolate. This includes all employees with close contact 48 hours before the infected person started showing symptoms. The quarantine should last for 14 days as that’s how long it takes to show symptoms after exposure. Close contact is defined as contact within 6 feet for more than 10 minutes and/or exposure to the infected person’s bodily fluids via coughing, sneezing, sharing utensils or drinks.
  • Any employee that didn’t have contact with an infected person may continue working. Make sure they continually self-monitor themselves though and continue proper hygiene, including frequent handwashing and avoiding use of common objects.
  • Assume any employee with symptoms has COVID-19 without requiring testing. At this point, anyone with even one symptom is presumed to have it and should quarantine for the allotted time. Anyone with mild symptoms can recover at home, while those with life-threatening symptoms should seek medical attention immediately and will likely be tested. 
  • If you are in an extreme situation of an employee shortage and have had exposure at your place of business, employees that aren’t showing symptoms may return to work ONLY if you implement twice-daily temperature checks and monitoring of their respiratory systems. Anyone that shows even a mild symptom should be sent home to quarantine for at least 14 days. All exposed employees that you need to work to prevent public crisis should wear proper face covering and practice proper handwashing. 
  • If your business deals with customers that require face-to-face contact with employees, such as a register checkout, proper precautions must be taken. Signage on the floor and/or at eye level should indicate that customers should stand 6 feet back. This way the only close contact that may occur is at the time of payment or grabbing the merchandise, which should be brief and as contactless as possible. If a 6-foot distance is impossible, installing screens or plexiglass between the customer and employee will help protect both your employees and the customers. 

Remember, it is illegal to share the information of a sick employee. If it’s not readily known who has the virus in the workplace, don’t share the information. Do your due diligence and your own ‘contact tracing’ to determine who spent time with the employee right before and during the symptoms. This includes time spent in the lunchroom, breaks, or conducting a specific task. These employees should be put on a 14-day quarantine to monitor for symptoms. 

Managing Customers and COVID-19

If your business relies on customers in-person, you must set guidelines and rules to keep your employees and customers safe.

  • Hang signage that tells sick customers to not enter the premises, but to do business with you online or over the phone. Offer simple guidance and tips so that it’s easy for them to still conduct the business they came in to see you for without feeling slighted. 
  • On the signage, encourage customers to self-monitor themselves before entering the store. If they have a cough, fever, or just don’t feel right, they should not enter. If they do enter, they should wear a proper face covering and keep a social distance.
  • Your sign should promote proper social distancing, which means keeping a 6-foot distance from both other customers and employees. Continue the signage and/or floor markers throughout your business for continual reminders as this is new to everyone.
  • Have easy access to tissues, waste bins, and touchless hand sanitizer stations throughout the store, including at the entrance and exit. Minimize commonly touched objects, including door handles by keeping doors propped open, eliminating pens, and other commonly touched objects. If there are objects, like self-checkouts that must be touched, provide touchless hand sanitizer for use before and after using the machine. Include a sign at the register asking customers to sanitize before using the machine.
  • Ensure that any necessary close contact (closer than 6-feet) occurs for less than 10 minutes and only absolutely necessary contact occurs.
  • Limit the number of people in your establishment at one time to the smallest number possible. After each customer or group of customers leave, disinfect the workplace effectively by frequently disinfecting doorknobs, light switches, pens, registers, and any other commonly touched item.
  • Have proper disinfection services that thoroughly eradicate the virus from your premises completed nightly as well as even more thorough disinfection services completed weekly to keep the workplace safe.

The most important things to remember about COVID-19 and protecting your employees and customers are as follows:

  • Proper handwashing and/or hand sanitizing is crucial. Provide adequate opportunities for this throughout the store.
  • Social distancing is imperative between employees, as well as between employees and customers. A 6-foot distance is required at all times and any necessary close contact should be brief and all participants should wear proper face coverings.
  • Disinfection of all areas of your workplace is essential throughout the day, ideally after each time that someone touches an object or is present in the workplace. Regular nighttime or weekly disinfection with professional-grade disinfection products is also essential in order to eradicate any lingering germs as the COVID-19 germs can last on surfaces for days. 

Author

Emily Kil

Co-Owner of Eco Bear Biohazard Cleaning Company

Together with her husband, Emily Kil is co-owner of Eco Bear, a leading biohazard remediation company in Southern California. An experienced entrepreneur, Emily assisted in founding Eco Bear as a means of combining her business experience with her desire to provide assistance to people facing challenging circumstances. Emily regularly writes about her first-hand experiences providing services such as biohazard cleanup, suicide cleanup, crime scene cleanup, unattended death cleanup, infectious disease disinfection and other types of difficult remediations in homes and businesses.